Since 2018 ERA has been dedicated to understanding and mitigating challenges that LGBTI+ people face in accessing their socio-economic rights. Studies show that workers’ rights in the Western Balkans region are far from protected. They are the first in line when austerity measures, pandemics and exploitative employers hit. When the element of discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics is added, the challenges increase. Thus, to protect worker’s rights effectively, there is a need to start thinking and acting through the lenses of those that are most marginalized, including LGBTI+ people, people with disabilities, people from poor backgrounds or people coming from ethnic minorities. These groups are all an integral part of the society, of labour relations and finally of the fight for workers’ rights.
The reports published by regional and international organizations show significant disadvantaged positions for the LGBTI+ workers compared to the others. The World Bank’s 2018 survey shows that 41% of LGBTI+ people had witnessed negative attitudes, comments, and conduct toward LGBTI+ colleagues, 14% had personally experienced such comments or conduct, and 16% had experienced unequal treatment with respect to employment conditions or benefits. Considering the fact that only 24% of LGBTI+ workers are open about being LGBTI+ at their workplace at regional level (which is higher than in the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro and North Macedonia). Furthermore, under the influence of overall stigma, exclusion and discrimination in the society, as well as the limited political representation of the LGBTI+ people, Trade Unions in the region do not include LGBTI+ people in the programs or their internal procedures. Thus, LGBTI+ workers’ rights remain unprotected even though they contribute towards the economy and development like all other workers.
In 2021, ERA in cooperation with the Solidarity Center, Solidarnost and other regional actors, has organized trainings and workshops for the trade unions in the Western Balkans. During these events, the Unions showed an openness to advance their work to better understand and represent LGBTI+ workers’ needs accordingly. Furthermore, they acknowledged that most of them face a lack of resources as well as knowledge on this topic. In the period 2019-2020 ERA conducted a needs assessment with Trade Union representatives from across the Western Balkans region. Almost all of them expressed a need for resources and materials on LGBTI+ worker’s issues, for trainings and workshops with the LGBTI+ community, and to know how they can help and assist the community from their perspective.
Therefore, this guide has been developed by ERA to provide easier access to information on LGBTI+ workers’ rights for trade union leaders and their members in the Western Balkans region. The guide will include information on the specific needs and concerns LGBTI+ workers face and it will share global and regional good practices on union engagement with LGBTI+ rights. Such practices show that union engagement on this topic is extremely important and beneficial for both communities. And that is relevant both from a worker’s rights perspective and on moral and ethical grounds because LGBTI+ people have the right to live in freedom and dignity just like everyone else.